There’s a human silhouette looming out of the depths. The waves above have churned up the sand below, and now the sediment coils above the seabed like a strange mist, like something out of a Stephen King novel.
I pop my head above the surface to fill my lungs with as much air as they can carry, tip myself forwards and thrash my legs around in what I assume must be the correct fashion, swimming deeper and deeper until the figure finally becomes clear. At the bottom of the bay, between two coral reefs in a sun-dappled sandy patch, is a figure of a man, at a desk, on a typewriter.
The underwater sculpture park of Grenada is the first of its kind in the world, and one of the most popular snorkelling sites in the Caribbean. Situated in 800 square metres of protected conservation area just off the island’s western coast, this collection of ghostly statues – made of concrete and fixed to the seabed by rebar – is very slowly being reclaimed by the ocean. Shoals of fish move among a ring of children holding hands, some toppled over and caked in barnacles. It is a bizarre sight, and feels a million miles from land.
The capital of Grenada is St. George’s, a densely built town set in a horseshoe shaped bay of an old volcano crater, and overlooked by a crumbling fort built by the French in 1705. It’s now used as by the town’s police as a gym. In the centre of town, a set of converted French barracks from the same era – at one stage used as a prison, and at another as the island’s first hotel – now houses the Grenada National Museum, which on sunny weekday afternoons is staffed by a single snoozing man.
Here you’ll find artifacts and tools from the island’s ancient indigenous past, as well as its long and often violent history at the centre of the Caribbean nutmeg trade. Grenada is known as the spice island for its many nutmeg plantations, which produce not just the nutmeg spice, but the mace used in incapacitating sprays. Grenada still produces 40 per cent of the global crop today. Pub quizzers might also like to note that the nutmeg holds such a hallowed place in Grenadian society that it appears on the country’s flag.
The top floor of the museum is dedicated to more recent history. In 1983, and over a period of four days, Grenada was invaded by the United States in order to restore power to the previous government, which had been deposed in a communist coup shortly after the country became independent from the United Kingdom. The invasion of a Commonwealth country drew international criticism at the time, including from Thatcher, though today the date of the invasion is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day, as Grenadians broadly supported the restoration of the democratic process.
Vestiges of Grenada’s communist past can be found on a drive around the north edge of the island, where taxis take a shortcut to Grenville through the abandoned Pearls Airport. Now just an overgrown strip of broken concrete bordered on both sides by low green hills and used for illegal drag races, it was captured by the Americans on the first day of the invasion in order to prevent resupplying from Cuba.
At one end of the airstrip is the hollow carcass of a Cubana Airlines passenger plane, and at another is a former Soviet crop duster with the letters CCCP barely visible on the fuselage. An unexpected piece of Cold War history, rusting away on a quiet corner of a Caribbean island.
Rum tasting in Grenada
Any trip around the island should include a stop at Rumboat Retreat on Mount Nesbit, where founder and rum expert Lisette Davis offers educational tasting sessions. She’s launched bars in London, and is partly responsible for bringing the third wave of tiki to the United Kingdom. If you’ve recently been inside a Polynesian-themed bar and wondered why, the answer is Lisette.
Rivers Rum is distilled to up to 89 per cent ABV, so strong that airlines will refuse to allow you to board with a bottle as it poses a risk of exploding.
The retreat, also a boutique hotel, is surrounded by dark forests and endless views. The host doesn’t shy away from diving into some of the less scrupulous practices of the rum industry either, highlighting how loose regulations allow rum to be confusingly labelled or artificially coloured to entice customers. She rolls her eyes at fancy, attention-grabbing bottles, but is enthusiastic about her trade, demonstrating the finer flavours and nuanced textures of some truly excellent rums.
Distilled at the nearby River Antoine Rum Distillery and popular across the island is Rivers Rum. This clear spirit is distilled to up to 89 per cent ABV, so strong that airlines will refuse to allow you to board with a bottle as it poses a risk of exploding.
Supermarkets in St. George’s sell a watered-down version for tourists. At a mere 69 per cent ABV it’s basically a shandy by comparison, but has become the longest surviving bottle on my drinks cabinet at home.
The drinks menu at Spice Island Beach Resort is a little more refined. It’s an elegant spot along the finest beach on the island – Grand Anse – and offers an all-inclusive service, with a daily-restocked bar in your room as well as a private terrace and swimming pool in some suites.
Along the beach is the recently opened Silversands Grenada resort which, in contrast to the traditional colonial style of the more established Spice Island, is a gleaming maze of sharp lines and architectural angles.
Its infinity pool stretches from the lounge to the beach, and at one hundred metres is the longest pool in the Caribbean. The hotel’s Tesla Model X transfers you from the airport to the hotel and back, and the rum bar sells a $70,000 bottle of Hennessy cognac.
I think I’ll take my chances with the exploding stuff.
Rates at Silversands Grenada start from $800 per night, including: private airport transfers; daily breakfast; complimentary selection of soft drinks, coffee, bottled water and beer from the private bar. Visit silversandsgrenada.com
To find out more about Spice Island Beach Resort and to book your stay visit spiceislandbeachresort.com
British Airways flies direct to Grenada from Gatwick. To book visit ba.com